The Latest Episodes of INSIGHT with Chris Van Vliet
Feb. 8, 2022

Mat Franco Reinvents Magic And How He Won America's Got Talent

Mat Franco Reinvents Magic And How He Won America's Got Talent

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Mat Franco (@matfranco) is a magician and the winner of the ninth season of America's Got Talent. He has a residency at the Linq Las Vegas with his show called "Magic Reinvented Nightly" has a residency. He joins Chris Van Vliet at the Blue Wire Studios to talk about how he first became fascinated by magic at age 4, the process of learning his first trick, how he creates magic tricks now, his experience on America's Got Talent and winning season nine, his favorite magic movie and then he performs some unbelievable tricks for us!


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Why do you think people are so fascinated by magic?

“I think that there is an element of mystery, but I think what a lot of people like about it is the element of surprise. It’s the same reason that we go to the cinema or the movies. Nowadays you can Google pretty much everything, but with magic, you can’t. There are very few things you can’t Google.”

When you look back at the old stuff, who inspires you?

“The stuff I read is usually folks that were around before I was able to see them. Growing up Lance Burton, who was a Las Vegas staple for many years. Also a guy named Bill Malone, who is an amazing close up magician, and Jeff McBride, who now runs a magic school. But I had seen all those guys and many others on television growing up, and that was how I got bit by the magic bug.” 

Do you remember the first trick that you saw?

“It is what they call a manipulation act. It’s an act where a magician would stand on stage silent, but there was music. It was all visual, like cards or producing doves. That is the most difficult act, because it is all show and tell.”

So what was the first trick you performed?

“I brought a few in to kindergarten for show and tell when I was 3. I had a magic wand that shrunk, a ball in a vase that disappears, and I tried to do thimble magic, which is ridiculous. What kid uses thimbles? I had these colored thimbles and I had no idea what I was doing, but I brought them in.”

So when did you really want to be a magician?

“It was right in that moment and before I knew what it took to make a living. I just knew it was something that I wanted to do. I had no idea you had to work and make money and all that, there are other people that do this so why can’t I? But then I realized that in showbusiness, business is the bigger word.”

At what point did you realize that you can make money from this?

“I would say at my first paid show, which I was around 10 for. I started doing birthday parties and performances on stage at school, I was just really ambitious.”

When you learn how to do a trick, it’s like a chef seeing how a dish is being made?

“Yes and no. A trick can’t necessarily be explained as ‘You do this, this and this…’ It’s more ‘This is why your brain thinks this…’ because I tricked the brain and you didn’t see it. It’s more about psychology. Think about Jimi Hendrix playing the guitar, you can see a closeup shot and slow it down, but not everyone can play it.”

How do you keep pushing the envelope now? What you are doing now is great, but you still keep finding ways to amaze people.

“I think it’s about stepping into territory that you haven’t yet. In magic, you are literally making the impossible possible, and you have to find a way to do it. There is sort of an endless supply of impossible things to tackle, so it never gets boring.”

So how much do you think your show has changed in all the years that you have been in Las Vegas?

“It’s changed quite a bit, but the heart is the same. The show is a version of self expression, being with the audience and creating that connection. But when I say that, it’s funny. The show is not about me, it’s about the tricks and the personality and the experience. So the tricks and productions have evolved, but the heart of it is still the same.”

So how long into the show before the audience are shocked?

“I would say that’s in the first routine. You want to start off strong. I start out with an interactive piece and end with a big punch that even the magicians go wow at.”

What were the steps where you realized that this could be a real career for you?

“I always thought that this could be a real career. Then, when I became 16 or 17, I started to realize what real life was and wondered if this could be a real career, because you start to question it, when reality sets in. So I went to college to study marketing and business to support my magic habit, and I thought to make a go of it. I knew it was a long shot, but my goal was to see if I could do magic full time.”

What did ‘Make a go of it’ look like?

“Well I tackled the college market first, I thought to myself well how do these guys, or anyone, get so good? The way they do it is by flight time and experience. My problem at 22 was that I would have a library show for kids one day, then a corporate show, then on college campus, then a birthday party. It was never the same show twice, I had to tailor each show, so I wasn’t getting the reps in. I just decided to tackle one age group, and I performed for the college students. I started marketing my shows and touring the country for 6 months a year with my one man show.”

What did your life look like before America’s Got Talent?

“I was doing the colleges and travelling constantly and being a road warrior. I was hoping to get onto America’s Got Talent so I could get more footage of me performing and book more gigs. But then I got voted to the next round, and then the next round… All I wanted was to get in a montage so I could say ‘As seen on America’s Got Talent.’ So I could put that on my posters for gigs. I wasn’t expecting to get a standing ovation each time, so yeah, that was way outside of my goals.”

So when you get to the next round and the next round, how many gigs do you have to cancel?

“I was doing both. I would be in Radio City one night, then in college the next night. It was really madness.”

You never had the vision to be a finalist?

“No, not at all. I didn’t even think about it until there were just 2 of us standing there at the end. Right as Nick Cannon opened the card, I peeked at it and I was like ‘Oh my God!’ I actually came in last but I changed it with sleight of hand [laughs].”

Writers get writer’s block, and I’m sure you get the same. What do you do to combat that?

“Pacing around, a lot of thinking and trying to be present. I am supposed to be focusing on x, y and z, but I am focused on the writer’s block. I try to let it knock around and get something to work out.”

So what went into the audition for America’s Got Talent?

“I wrote a card story, which was inspired to me by Bill Malone. He was the first to do it while shuffling, he was a pioneer of it. So I learned the routine and did it at private gigs, but it was time for me to write my own story. I remember writing it by a pool in a hotel while I was doing the college loop.”

Has a trick ever gone wrong? And if so, how do you handle it?

“Most often, the audience doesn’t have any idea. So I had a borrowed dollar from someone, it disappears and reappears in an impossible location, which was a ramen packet. The guy is on stage, opens the packet, and it is not there. I know that it is lost in the ramen somewhere, so I play it as a joke. Everyone knows it should be in there, they laugh and we all just move on.” 

I end every interview talking about gratitude. What are 3 things in your life that you are grateful for?

“Family, fans and being able to work on my emotional intelligence.”